Sunday, July 16, 2017

28.1 - Good News: Florida court declares state "Stand Your Ground" Law unconstitutional

Good News: Florida court declares state "Stand Your Ground" Law unconstitutional

Starting out the week, as we always like to, with some Good News, we see that on July 3, a state circuit judge in Florida ruled that the state's updated "stand your ground" law is unconstitutional. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch found that the amended law exceeded legislative authority and effectively ignored guidelines already set down by the state Supreme Court.

Since it's sometimes unclear what these laws are, a brief and oversimplified explanation: Traditionally, people who felt their lives were in danger from some threat had a "duty to retreat" - that is, a duty to leave the situation, to back down from a confrontation - before they could legally use lethal force and claim self-defense. In other words, in order to claim self-defense as a defense against a charge of killing someone, you had to show that you could not have defended yourself by simply leaving the situation. Exceptions were made for places such as your own home; that is, you did not have a duty to retreat from your own home.

"Stand your ground" laws, at bottom, remove the "duty to retreat" and you can use lethal force if you feel you are at risk of imminent death or great bodily harm. The Florida "stand your ground" law, passed in 2005, specifically gave people the right to "shoot first" in such cases and allowed judges to dismiss charges on the grounds of a "reasonable" claim of self-defense.

The predictable result was that the average annual number of "justifiable homicides" in Florida tripled over the ensuing five years. And in fact a study published last fall in the journal "JAMA Internal Medicine" (JAMA of course being the "Journal of the American Medical Association," likely the nation's leading medical journal) found a connection with an overall increase in homicides in the state in the years following the law's passage: a 24% increase in the monthly homicide rate and a 32% increase in the monthly rate for homicides involving guns.

In 2015, the Florida Supreme Court stiffened the requirements of the law, saying that defendants had to prove in pretrial hearings that they were defending themselves in order to avoid prosecution.

So what did Florida do? The legislature, with the support of Gov. Voldemort and at the urging of the Nutzoid Rabbit-brains of America, otherwise known as the NRA, simply re-wrote the law to put the burden on prosecutors to prove with "clear and convincing" evidence that the defendant was not acting in self-defense.

It was that requirement that Judge Hirsch found an unconstitutional breach of the authority of the state supreme court.

This doesn't undo the law, obviously, and it is still possible his decision will be overturned - but anything that puts limits or the brakes on the sort of pumped-up wild West fantasizing driving these sorts of bills and the deaths that result from them is Good News.

Quick Footnote: Prosecutors in Florida were vehemently against the updated law because they believed it made it easier for defendants to get away from murder, as in fact the record clearly shows it does. Isn't it interesting how the right-wingers are all about supporting the police and supporting law enforcement and being against crime - until it involves something desired by the gun nuts, as this was, at which point the opinions of cops and prosecutors and so on no longer count?

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